An often involving look at the aftermath of war. Fresh and uniquely staged.
CROSS POLLINATING THEATRE
Shameless Hussy is one my favorite companies in Vancouver and Dissolve is theatrically clever and a riveting show. I picked it as one of my Top Ten Shows in 2013. I want to give you two tickets to see it for free! If you live in the Greater Vancouver area and want to win, see below this review for Welcome to Thebes by United Players.
(Note: Art is subjective. One-person’s sublime evening out is another person’s torture. I want to celebrate what went into creating the show and how I felt the audience reacted. Then I will allow my cynical Uncle Max to have a short retort. I will also post the cost of tickets.
The thought is you can then decide if the show is to your taste and worth the money they are asking. Does Uncle Max talk you out of it? Or did the rest of the review convince you to go? Let me know.)
United Players must (once again) be applauded for their theatrical offerings. A community theatre group nestled in the West Point Grey near UBC, and they often choose dramatic work and it is presented by professional directors and up to two pro’s in the cast. They don’t often do edgy work but when they do it is treated with curiosity and respect by their subscribers.
Welcome to Thebes certainly tested that though. What a potent and at times harrowing production. The show opens with three soldiers bursting into the corridor style playing area and pointing their guns in the faces of audience members in either side, shouting orders heavy with foul language. But after aggressively grabbing our attention the script settles into a grand sprawling tale of political treachery and power dynamics.
Greek tragedies and comedies mainly; Sophcles’ Antigone, Euripides’ Hippolytus and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata inspired Moira Buffini 2010 play but it is set in modern times. (It should be noted that I Wikipedia’d that information.) Originally staged with an all black cast, she examines the struggle of a small nation trying to rebuild after a brutal civil war. Juxtaposing, Greek events and names into modern setting she is showing how struggles with oppression are on-going. Director Brian Parkinson takes that a step further by using a very multi-ethnic cast with a wide range of accents to set it in every place and no place at the same time.
Thebes has just held it’s first democratic elections and Eurydice, played with steely dignity by MariaLuisa Alvarez, has been elected President. She is to meet with First Citizen of Athens Theseus, Jordan Navratil, wonderfully charming but arrogant, to ask for financial aid to rebuild her war-ravaged country.
In this multi-layered story there is also the ex-wife of the overthrown dictator and her new champion; a mechanic who lost his son in the war; a blinded doctor who has fallen in love with one of the sisters of said overthrown dictator, three rebel soldiers who have been tasked with being guards of the presidential palace. Off-stage but still key persons in the soap opera are the new wife of Theseus, his military son and a group of Spartans.
This is a densely plotted story about how the aftermath of civil war is not just headlines and history books. The themes of might vs right, man vs woman and destiny vs fate are intertwined with people who are just trying to survive in their brutal world.
With a cast of 26 actors, Mr. Parkinson’s dedication to diverse casting meant he had to use some actors who had never been on-stage before. The effort works very well as he directs each actor to maximize what they are capable of. The stronger actors do the ‘heavy lifting’ and the newer ones are each given a chance to flourish.
Aside from the commanding work by Ms. Alvarez and Mr. Navratil there are other standouts in the large cast. Marion Landers is the vicious and power hungry former first lady driven mad with vengeance; Adam Beauchesne has some very touching scenes as the blind doctor, Mandana Namazi as a tough as nails cabinet minister is lovely and gets one of the much needed laughs of the night.
Morgan Churla gets a lovely character arc as the put upon assistant to Theseus Rosemary F. Manso and Broadus Mattison capture a tragic blend of fury and resignation in a scene late in the play and Rema Kibayi as the manipulating and maniacal pretender to the throne is magnetic.
The production design includes some interesting animation by Chengyan Boon projected above the audience that give a surreal quality, and Lisa Sadler’s blend of costumes from different regions and times also adds to the hypnagogic timeless ‘anyplace’ quality.
I saw the show on a Sunday night and the audience was about 55% full. As the raw language and multi-layered story was unfolding I noted the reactions of the people seated across from me. They sat with brow furrowed and jaw set. It was clear they were going to duck out at halftime. I hurried over to the lobby exit at intermission out of curiosity and to my surprise, no one left! Captured by the drama and intrigued they wanted to see what happened next. That is a testament to the show’s ability to engage.
UNCLE MAX RETORTS
What the heck was going on? The scenes all chased after each other with a new gaggle of characters racing in like ducklings after seed. I felt like a map or game plan would have been helpful in the program. I kept getting lost.
In Act Two there are a lot of two person scenes and some of them lost the stakes and drive, which made the long show sag in spots.
Sitting across from another audience is weird but I took malicious delight when I saw one them get a little splatter of blood on her. Ha, ha!
WHO IS THIS SHOW FOR?
Do you want to see something fresh?
Do you political dramas, raw language, large emotions and complicated plots? Do you want drama that provokes and challenges?
Are you tired of community theatre making safe choices that don’t challenge?
Do you want to encourage casting choices that reflect our community?
Then this is the show for you.
HOW MUCH ARE TICKETS
Single tickets range form $16 to $20.
United Players at Jericho Arts Centre also uses volunteer ushers.
This is a very different show and there is cause for celebration for that. There is a lot about it that is fresh and unique. There are moments that are quite visceral and tense. By the end you know you have been on an adventure. A sobering one, but with some hope as well.
Bravo to United Players for producing it.
WIN FREE THEATRE TICKETS BY CROSS POLLINATING THEATRE
“Shameless Hussy are very cheeky, clever and passionate story tellers. Dissolve by Meghan Gardiner and award winningly acted by the brilliantly versatile Emmelia Gordon was one on my Top Ten shows of 2013.
I want to give you two tickets to see it for free! If you live in the Greater Vancouver area and want to win simply re-tweet this review on Twitter or share it on Facebook and include (copy and paste) the following sentence:
‘I want to see @shamelesshussy hit play #DISSOLVE owl.li/L2Tyu ‘
by April 26, 2015. A draw will be held from the eligible entries and the winner will be notified by the Shameless Hussies directly on April 27th, 2015.”
David C. Jones